How to Organize and Archive Family Keepsakes

By June 9, 2017Family Values
Archive- family keepsakes

A lot of family archives get handed down in a similar condition: a mess of historical documents, heirlooms, and well, other “stuff”. It can really be an overwhelming responsibility if you are the one who is in charge of taking care of all the archives. You have just received a lifetime worth of belongings from a loved one (someone you may have lost recently). So what can you do now to archive family keepsakes ?


1- Plan How to Archive Family Keepsakes

The first step is to plan how you wish to archive family keepsakes, don’t just dive in. You need to consider various elements such as whether you wish to share with family members, whether you wish to share or preserve digital or just physical artefacts. Perhaps, you don’t wish to share things just now. Understanding the goal you wish to acheive at this point is crucial to your success.

Also keep the current in mind. Perpahs you want to share the items you have inherited and enable your family to not just view them, but to also add to them.

If you goal includes sharing, you should consider also how family can contribute, especially if you are moving towards a digital approach. You could start an online family tree and enable family members to add additional media, events and stories to create a rich and colourful family history.  Applications such as OneFams Web or Mobile applications work fantastically and help organise and structure content and is worth considering at the onset. If your deciding on the digital route, don’t try to upload everything, decide on the best images, videos and audio memories. The rest should be stored in a back up device.


2 – Consolidate the Important Stuff

If you have inherited materials from other family members, its important to identify keepsakes from non keepsakes. Old letters, newspaper clippings, address books, scrapbooks, and receipts – all of them have one thing in common. They are made out of paper in its different sizes, shapes, and colors. You should definitely consider yourself lucky if the archive you have inherited is free of paper trash.

As far as paper is concerned, you will definitely feel relieved to throw away quite a lot of it – despite the fact that it might have come from your Great aunt’s desk drawer. Most important of all, once you have begun organizing and sorting your archive, question yourself. Are all the items worth the cost and the time of supplies for archival storage to be part of your archive?

You may also inherit items that are not paper based, this will provide additional opportunities and problems later on. You could consider labelling items if a lot exist.

No doubt, you’ll have discovered some photo negatives, dont through these away even if you do not intend to use! Some home scanners can now turn these negatives into beautiful prints.

Archive Family Keepsakes

Archive Family Keepsakes


3 – Organising Family Keepsakes

Now that you have gathered as many keepsakes as possible, you need to think about categorising the different items. Firstly identify categories that you belive photos or other items can be divided into. This is a personal choice, so there are many options open to you. You could consider organising by

  • Your Fathers Family
  • Your Mothers Family
  • Your Children
  • Your Grandchildren
  • Years of Timeframes
  • Events such as births,deaths and marriages.
  • Other Events
  • Story – Perhaps you photo tells a story, consider how you can pass on this legacy.

It is advisable to document the categories you have chosen, as this will benefit both you and the next generation in understanding how the items are categorised. This could be done through a labelling system or a simple document attached to the storage boxes later. If you have issues in identifying the time period read our article on dating old photos.


4 – Archive Family Keepsakes

When thinking about preserving your family papers and photographs, there are two ideas to keep in mind: the storage enclosure -the box, album or folder that contains your items, and the storage environment -the conditions, mainly temperature and humidity, that the items will encounter. The vital stuff should be taken care of first. Always keep in mind that your primary goal is to make sure your family history is preserved.

When storing photos and other paper based items, you should use individual fitted storage envelopes or sleeves inside an archival box. This will ensure that the images are not sliding or rubbing against each other, which would in turn damage or scratch the paper. Another good idea is to use clear plastic, in that way, you can view the image without having to unnecessarily remove it from the protective plastic in a search.

Organise each category into plastic storage boxes, no matter how hard you try, carboard ones will get damaged and bend over the years.

Another great method for archiving is digitizing. Scanning your family photos, slides and negatives opens up many possibilities. You can use the digital images in your genealogy software and share them with relatives on a CD, DVD or photo-sharing Web site. And though you certainly won’t want to discard the originals, digital copies serve as backups in case disaster strikes.


5 – Make Room for Heirlooms

The name “artifact” isn’t only limited to objects that are excavated from archeological digs. Collectors and curators use this term for all sorts of manmade items that acquire artistic or historical significance. Plus, family historians will agree that artifacts also carry sentimental and emotional value as well.

No matter the type of artifact you are going through, always remember to wash your hands before you touch it, and also remove bracelets and rings so you can avoid snagging or nicking the object. Here’s how you can store different artifacts:

  • Musical Instruments: Consider using a soft cloth for removing dust. The best way to keep monitoring an instrument’s repair needs and function is to play it regularly. Without being maintained properly, instruments will easily lose their function to produce music.
  • China and Collectibles:China shouldn’t be wrapped in newspaper or any acidic newsprint paper in the long run. This type of storage for china and collectibles can lead to discoloration. Consider using lignin-free, acid-free tissue in replacement. Breakables should be kept in crush-resistant, sturdy archival boxes.
  • Art:According to museums, display of any valuable piece should be rotated – six months on rest in storage and six months on display. This prevents overexposure to dust, light, and all sorts of other elements from the environment.
  • Furniture:Furniture polish spray may be convenient, however, it is a poor chase for looking after wood. Consider using a slightly damp and clean cloth in replacement, and try to keep the pieces away from direct sunlight.
  • Clothing:If in good condition, uniforms, christening gowns, and wedding dresses should be laundered after use and hung to store. You can consult any professional cleaner for intricate or antique clothing. To make sure the garment is supported, try wrapping wooden hangers in polyester quilt batting covered with a muslin sleeve. Archival tissue should be stuffed in legs and sleeves to provide added support. Place all the clothing in a muslin garment bag that is roughly the same size as the clothing. Vinyl or plastic garment bags shouldn’t be used.


So long as you follow the above mentioned tips, you will find it easier to organize and archive family keepsakes. It goes without saying that these keepsakes have been in your family for a long time. And as such, you should consider it your duty to somehow keep them preserved and attached to your family for generations to come. Remember, be patient, it may take some time to acheive your goal.

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